Panthers using bye weeks to ‘patch things up’
By KEITH SPARKS
The Panther backfield already featured some question marks to start the season, but it’s only gotten worse over time. Starting fullback Jakob Schofield tore his ACL during the first game of the season, after which he was replaced by Connor Kuykendall and Reid Sanders. During the Panthers’ first bye week, Sanders found out he had a shoulder injury that would require surgery and will likely keep him out for the season, as well.
“We’re still beat up, unfortunately, so we’re trying to do some patchwork right now,” Walker said. “I don’t know if we’re going to get some of them back at all this season. Actually, I know we’re not going to get some of them back, so we’re patching things together and moving people around. Luckily, we have this time to experiment, I guess you could say, with some positions and what we’re going to do moving forward.”
Running back Shane Gonzalez, who is playing the running back position for the first time in his career this season and has looked impressive, scoring four touchdowns during Liberty Hill’s win over Connally, is scheduled for an MRI on his knee. It hasn’t been confirmed yet whether or not he’ll be out for the season, but the forecast isn’t pretty.
“It’s not the two weeks of recovery that I thought we’d get, which has been kind of frustrating, because those people that are injured aren’t getting any better, or they’re having surgery and aren’t going to play anymore,” Walker said. “We’re having to really scramble and try to figure out who can fill some shoes. If you look at my backfield, two of three starters are out for the year, and one of my backups. My first two fullbacks and a halfback are done.”
Once again, as he did with Kuykendall earlier in the year, Walker is looking at some of his linemen to fill the fullback position for their first district matchup with Fredericksburg, but replacing Gonzalez at the halfback position worries him more so than fullback.
“We’re just moving some things around and kind of looking at it right now,” Walker said. “We still feel like we can piece this thing together. Halfback worries me a little more, just because of the depth there moving forward, but right now it’s looking like (Blake) Simpson. He’s a sophomore that hasn’t played much, but runs hard.”
Walker doesn’t expect the decision at fullback to be an easy one, saying “We’ll know when we get off the bus in Fredericksburg who our fullback will be.”
While some would assume that Harrison, who is pretty clearly the most talented running back on the roster, would shoulder most of the load now that his fellow running backs are so hobbled, Walker said it’s crucial to the success of their offense that they continue to utilize the fullback and halfback positions just as often, regardless of who’s back there.
“We’ve got to be able to run everywhere,” Walker said. “Obviously, people are going to start keying hard on Harrison, which I would, too. He’s a pretty dynamic running back, so I think people will key him pretty hard, but we’ll definitely do some things. We feel like the guys we have at other positions will come through.”
Although we haven’t seen much of Simpson or whoever may step in at fullback next Friday, Walker said he thinks they’ll surprise some people with their running abilities.
“I think some of them are going to step up and surprise y’all,” Walker said. “I think y’all will be saying, ‘Where did that kid come from?’ There are some of those that I think could happen. We’re not real worried about some of the movement. It just makes us thinner, which is our biggest problem.”
Three-year starter and defensive leader Wyatt Cheney has missed the last couple games with a shoulder injury, as well, but Walker said he’s one of the few that have been able to use these two bye weeks to recover. By the time the Panthers step on the field in Fredericksburg on Oct. 12, Cheney will be right there with them.